Kiara Cunningham; Hanette Hreish

COLUMBUS, Miss.— The Speech and Hearing Center at Mississippi University for Women is partnering with the ALS Association of Louisiana-Mississippi Chapter to provide communication devices for Mississippians with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

“Approximately 5,000 people in the US are diagnosed with ALS each year. This is about 15 new cases per day. Every 90 minutes, someone is diagnosed with the disease and someone passes away from it,” said Karen Barrett, Care Services coordinator for the ALS Association Louisiana-Mississippi.

Speech-language pathology graduate students at The W and the regional ALS chapter are collaborating to assist individuals who have difficulty communicating due to ALS. The communication devices are accessed either by touch or eye movement. Patients can program the devices to communicate using individual words and/or preconstructed messages in the individual’s voice. Recipients of the devices are also eligible to receive device training. Loaner devices are available for individuals who are unable to purchase the communication devices or for those who need access to a communication device quickly.

According to the ALS Association, Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) was first found in 1869 by French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot, but it wasn’t until 1939 that Lou Gehrig brought national and international attention to the disease. ALS is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. When the motor neurons die, the ability of the brain to initiate and control muscle movement is lost. With voluntary muscle action progressively affected, patients in the later stages of the disease may become totally paralyzed.

According to Barrett, Mississippi averages 100 individuals living in Mississippi who have contacted or been referred to the ALS Association Louisiana-Mississippi. However, not all people living with ALS in Mississippi are registered with the chapter.

“Through this partnership, individuals with ALS who need a communication device can get the equipment they need to improve their communication abilities quickly,” said Janette Hreish, instructor of speech-language pathology at The W. “Their improved ability to communicate improves when they receive a communication device directly results in an improvement in quality of life.

“These devices can supplement speech or be an alternate way of communication depending on the progression of the disease. The devices can be paired with environmental controls that allow the client to turn a light on or off or change the channel on the TV all from their device.”

Along with the devices, the faculty of The W’s Speech and Hearing Center will provide communication device evaluations for individuals without access to professional in their area.

“Hopefully this clinical experience with individuals with ALS will allow our graduate students to impact others throughout their future careers,” said Hreish

The ALS Association Louisiana-Mississippi Chapter’s programs are designed to fill in the gaps not met by the healthcare community, health insurance and government assistance. The ALS Association operates under a shared mission: to lead the fight to cure and treat ALS through global, cutting-edge research, and to empower people with Lou Gehrig’s disease and their families to live fuller lives by providing them with compassionate care and support. The ALS Association Louisiana Chapter was founded in 2005 and expanded to include the state of Mississippi in 2009.

For more information about receiving an ALS communication device, please contact Barrett, Care Services coordinator at (225) 343- 9880 ext.110 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

March 2, 2021
Contact: Tyler Wheat
(662) 241-7683
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